7th-9th September 2018
The Harvest of our Lives Led by Canon Veronica Hydon
A creative weekend using a variety of art and craft materials to explore and celebrate different skills each of us have discovered, practised and developed during our lifetimes in a range of work and leisure contexts, and sharing how God has blessed and encouraged us along the way.
This weekend will be contemplative as well as companionable. A time for greater appreciation of our own achievements as labourers in God’s Harvest.
£165pp including all meals & en-suite accommodation
Foxhill House and Woodlands, Tarvin Road, Frodsham WA6 6XB
The Diocese of Chester centre for prayer, study & mission
The Blessing Ceremony was performed by Veronica and was held at St Cross Church, Knutsford by kind permission of the Vicar and PCC. The church has some stained glass windows designed by Burne-Jones and made by Morris & Co – the Arts and Crafts company founded by William Morris. The West window is particularly fine.
The reception afterwards was at the Belle Epoque in Knutsford.
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Ps 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
We have now reached the first Sunday in September and the 14th Sunday after Trinity – only seven more to go! So today my talk is part sermon, and part meditation.
Our readings speak about the commandments given to us by God, and how it is most important for us to be doers of God’s word and not merely hearers like those who still speak with unbridled tongues and who deceive no one but themselves.
It could be said that it is all in your mind, as your mind commands your thought, speech and actions. Let me give you an example: A lovely-looking girl got on a bus and most heads turned. She had a classical beauty and figure, and was most attractively dressed. The faces of other passengers registered wistful pleasure or delight – until she began to speak. Her voice was like the sound of many cement-mixers, coarse and loud and grating and the content was worse than the sound, crude, judgemental, blasphemous; it really was a real turn-off. If only she had given as much thought and care to her attitudes as to her appearance!
Now the Pharisees were most zealous in religious observance; they were not all nit-pickers or pettifogging lawyers; but when the hungry disciples ignored a traditional ritual, the Pharisees were quick to try to attack Jesus through his friends. Jesus made no defence of his disciples, but launched a scathing counter-attack on their accusers, by contrasting appearance with reality. In Isaiah 29:13, we can read: The LORD says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules that they have been taught.”
Jesus opened up the whole debate about the validity of traditions; minute regulations can often obscure the real principle. He contrasted the eternal law of God with man-made laws which are not sacrosanct. Simply because it seems good to us or we’ve always done it that way does not mean it can never be changed or has Divine approval.
With the crowd and later with his disciples, Jesus explained the truth about uncleanness and what really defiles a man or a woman. His appalling catalogue of sins and crimes, which are repulsive to us all, are all actions of an unclean mind and heart, not anything external; and they all can seed and reproduce themselves.
The heart of the matter, is a matter of the heart and mind. It is all a matter of personal responsibility. We would like to blame our genes, or poor environment, or inadequate education, or social pressures, or life’s unfairness; Obviously, we think, it must be something to do with other people! God has, however, given to each of us the dignity and the privilege of being responsible – and answerable – for our own acts and attitudes. It seems as if there is an evil twist within us; but how we deal with depends on us.
When a trainee priest once told an old and very wise saint that he found it difficult not to give way to temptation, the saint replied that, “I cannot stop birds from flying over my head, but I can stop them from nesting in my hair!”
So when we need help. Remember the power of prayer.
you know us far better than we know ourselves.
You know how badly we react to criticism,
how quick we are to judge other people,
and even quicker to excuse ourselves;
we want to blame other people for our mistakes and faults and frailty;
we close up our minds and hearts;
and we cling to things that are not good for us.
Lord, help us;
we are trying to be honest with ourselves,
and with you;
help us to admit our faults and confess our sins.
Show us what spoils us, imprisons us, and enslaves us;
show us how we can be free within ourselves.
Lord, help us,
have mercy on us;
and set us free from the evil power of sin.
Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18; Ps 34 15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Today’s three readings have sufficient material for sermons covering a month of Sundays; however, you may be glad to know that I will comment on only one theme this morning.
In just seven weeks we will be commemorating the centenary of the ending of the First World War. As the words of St. Paul reminded us, we are still at war today, but many fail to recognise it.
C. S. Lewis wrote a book about imaginary letters between the devil and his lieutenants called the Screwtape Letters. Lewis says in his introduction to the book, that the general public prefers either to ignore the forces of evil altogether – to pretend they don’t- exist’ and to use cartoon images of a ‘devil’ with horns and a tail as an argument to that effect. ‘You can’t possibly believe in that nonsense’, so how can you believe in a devil at all?’ The other extreme is to take an unhealthy interest in everything demonic, which can be just as bad in the long run.
What we have in the present passage and what l believe is required again and again as Christians, is face the daily and yearly battle for the kingdom, with a sober, realistic assessment both of the struggle we are engaged in and of the weapons at our disposal. It is, of course, a surprise to many people that there is a ‘struggle’ at all. Yes, they think, we find it difficult from time to time to practise our Christianity. We find it hard to forgive people, to pray regularly, to resist temptation, and to learn more about the faith. But as far as they’re concerned that’s the end of it. They have never thought that their small struggles might be part of a larger campaign.
In the letter to his friends in Ephesus, Paul writes that they should keep alert and arm themselves against the wiles of the devil and that is still good advice for us today. Paul warns them that, ‘our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. The problem with that is you can’t see the spiritual forces of evil. During the last war it was easy. The German aeroplanes had black swastikas on them and the German soldiers wore grey uniforms with funny shaped tin hats and anyway the whole country was united in fighting them.
But in today’s war we can’t see our evil enemy, we can only recognise the evil effect the devil has on other people, or on the way he tempts us from the straight and narrow path as we try to follow the will of God. And today, not only is the country not united in fighting evil, but sometimes even the churches seem divided!
But even if we can’t see our foe, Paul does give us some very practical advice. We must put on the armour which has been provided by God. Firstly he says fasten the belt of truth around your waist. That is very important. The primary thing about the Christian message is that it is true; if it isn’t, it’s meaningless. It isn’t true because it works; NO, it works because it is true. Never give up on the sheer truth of the gospel. It’s like the belt which holds everything else together and in place. And we should be true in all we say and do. On the television we see advertisements in which lying is seen as the norm – I’m thinking about the advert where a hostess passes off a bought ready meal as her own cooking.
And put on the breastplate of righteousness. The Revised English Bible says
for a breastplate put on integrity; we all know what is right and wrong, so we should do good and seek the moral high ground. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. REB says let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing; Jesus proclaimed a Gospel of peace, yet he did not budge when things got tough, and he was prepared to stand firm – even against physical force when necessary.
With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. If we have a strong faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then we can be sure that he will help us resist all that the devil can throw at us. Take the helmet of salvation, GNB says accept salvation as a helmet. The devil tries to put doubt in our minds,
but if we know, if we really, really know, that we are saved, and that Jesus really loves us and that he died on the Cross for us, then the doubts sown by the devil will never be able to take root.
Ok, so that’s the armour, but how do we attack? Take the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you. God has given us the Bible, His Holy Word, as a great spiritual resource to help us defeat evil. It gives us great strength and encouragement and we should read it every day. And Paul goes on in his letter to the Ephesians to remind them that they also have another weapon which is prayer. God is spirit and we have been told to worship God in spirit and in truth. So Paul says – Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. And we know that in prayer we can ask God’s help not only for our own fight against evil, but also for our friends and family, and not only for our friends and family, but for our town and for the whole world.
We are told that with Christ’s death and resurrection he has won the victory, yet we still appear to see evil overcoming good all over the world.
How can this be? The only way I can think of explaining this is to liken it to winter in 1944-45. The war in Europe was virtually won yet because the allies let their guard down, the Germans had one last push, the Battle of the Bulge. It was their one last offensive, it cost many lives, it may have prolonged the war, but it was defeated, and by May of 1945, it was all over.
Have we as Christians let our guard down? Perhaps the devil is having his Battle of the Bulge. But he has already been defeated and Christ will come in Glory.
So next time you see a film or a programme about the war on the TV, remember, that we too have a war to fight against evil, and we have God’s armour to protect us if we will only use it. Sometimes we may have feelings of being restricted or let down, or inadequate. Remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote this inspiring letter to his friends. So take heart, never give in, and never forget to use our God given weapons of prayer and reading the Bible. They will Inspire us to tell the world of Jesus’ love for all and spread God’s kingdom and at the same time enable us thwart the devil and all his evil ways.
Can you spot what’s missing from the picture above? One immediate response might be “The 1990’s Loo & Kitchen Pod” of course, but the less obvious answer is the inscription carved high up on the stone sill beneath the West Window. If you purchase a copy of Chris Ward’s splendid book “St Oswald’s Church , Bollington: The First 100 Years”, you’ll find the details of this inscription on Page One. Otherwise it can be very hard to read in situ (the inscription, not the book!) but as we now approach St Oswald’s 110th Birthday we are planning to restore the West End of the church to something like its original spaciousness and also incidentally to clean the stone of the window sill to make that historic inscription more legible again.
We are very conscious of the privilege of being the inheritors, or rather the caretakers, of St Oswald’s Church here in Bollington. As the inscription says, it was consecrated to the glory of God on the 22nd October 1908. The second century saint and theologian Irenaeus declared that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive” – echoing Jesus’ own words, “I have come that you may have life, in all its fullness!” We urge all our school children to “do your best – be the best that you can be!” The idea of building St Oswald’s Church emerged in the early 1900s as the then County Council were considering expanding Bollington Cross School to provide education for the increasing numbers of children within the local community. “In the earnest hope of divine assistance”, Bollington’s first Vicar, a young man called Revd George Palmer, had been the instigator of the original school building, which was opened in October 1845, incorporating a purpose-built Sunday Worship space. Local businessman and mill-owner, Samuel Greg, had gifted the land for that original vision. In 1907 another member of the Greg family, Herbert, generously donated the land for the separate building of a Church in response to an appeal from the parish finance committee (no doubt chaired by the then Vicar, Revd Charles Brooke Gwynne).
It is not known how the dedication was chosen, but the Celtic saint Oswald was reputed to have been a man of prayer, humility and open-handed generosity, so perhaps naming this church after such a saint was a subtle tribute to all those who freely gave land, financial grants and voluntary subscriptions to enable its construction. According to Chris Ward’s research, it cost £1,000 in 1845 to build the original School and Church, and then over sixty years later in 1908 it cost £3,700 to erect St Oswald’s Church. These sums appear on paper to be tiny when laid alongside the modern costs of adding basic sanitation and catering facilities (£15,000) in 1999, or our new sound system (around £8,000) in 2014, or our 2012 building extension, providing new loos and storage and creating a level access main entrance. The major expenditure for this of around £180,000 was met out of the total raised from the sale of Holy Trinity Church, Kerridge. Of course, it is hard to make accurate comparisons, but when you look back at the rise in house prices over the past 110 years, our present-day economy is clearly very different from that experienced by our Edwardian predecessors!
One factor however that has remained constant over the years is the continued vision and generosity of the members of our congregation and local community. We have kept firmly focussed on that original Christian vision and calling to serve our neighbours, in ways which are continually evolving to meet the changing needs of our society. Whereas six years ago we were fortunate in being able to afford an extension in order to improve our main entrance and provide more toilets, now we are applying for further faculty permission to enhance our catering and storage facilities, but this will be at far less cost since we will be working solely within the existing footprint of the church. By utilising the former main entrance porch, we will be able to install a more spacious kitchen (and simply add a new fire exit along the north side aisle). This will mean we will be able to offer greater support to our existing outreach groups (such as Praise & Play and RiCH) as well as broadening our appeal to other service-users and community groups in future. The original architect’s vision will be reinstated, allowing much more flexible space in front of the baptistery under the West Window, together with more discreet wall-mounted storage for our folding chairs and tables and other household equipment.
The featured picture gives you an impression of the restored balance and symmetry which will result on completion of this next project! We already have planning permission from Cheshire East to create the fire exit and our architect has drawn up detailed plans for the whole scheme for our Diocesan faculty application. These plans will be put on display in due course as part of the process. We are very fortunate to have been granted £20,000 from the Diocese out of the proceeds of the sale of the former Vicarage, but we are now also seeking other grant funding and private donations in order to be able to totally fund the building works, estimated to be in the region of £60,000. We have already received several other generous donations totalling about £7,000. So we are currently looking to find the balance of £33,000 to successfully complete the project. Your present Vicar, like her predecessors, has faith that God will honour all our endeavours to make the best provision we can to serve the people around us – always “to be the best we can be” and to strive to bring about change for good in our neighbourhood and wider world through works of compassion, creativity, prayer and practical service.
Please consider how you might join us in carrying out this mission project, encouraging us in whatever way you feel able to do. Perhaps you might think of giving a Birthday present to St Oswald’s on the occasion of our 110th Birthday this October? It would certainly be amazing to be able to complete this kitchen project in time for the Bollington Festival next May, now just nine months away! Any donations, however small, will make a huge difference – and there are Gift Aid forms and Standing Order forms available to download here . Thank you! May God continue to bless us all as we strive to build one another up in faith, hope and love, over the months and years to come.
Be Strong and of Good Courage!
At our Family Service this morning we heard the story of St Oswald (about 604 – 642 AD), King of Northumbria who helped St Aidan to spread Christianity throughout his kingdom. He was generous to the poor. One Easter he was feasting with St Aidan when news came of poor people in the street outside begging for food. Oswald not only shared the food from the feast, but also gave away the silver dishes that the food was on. He had a wooden cross erected before the Battle of Heavenfield and exhorted his troops to be Strong and of Good Courage.
During the service young and older members of the congregation decorated shields with Christian symbols.
The banner in our Children’s Corner was created ten years ago by children from both of our Church Schools
2 Kings 4: 42-44; Ps 145. 10-19; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6:1 -21
In the past I have spoken about the story of the feeding of the 5000, so, I was a bit taken aback to find that the main Bible reading again related to that story; so today I will be asking you to think about the second part of the story where Jesus comes to his disciples when they are in trouble on the lake.
Just over two weeks ago the country was gripped with the Football World Cup fever, and even Veronica featured it in her sermon. Our team did well, but had they returned with the trophy I am sure that one of the newspaper headlines would have said that Gareth Southgate, or the winning goal scorer ‘walks on water’, acknowledging an almost superhuman performance. But that success in the world cup did not quite happen.
‘Walking on water’ has become an accepted sign of divinity since the evangelists recorded this story -which is exactly why they wrote it down. But the water he walked on was no ‘millpond’. Jesus was seen, striding across a tempestuous sea.
Now I believe in miracles. I believe in the really big ones, the Incarnation and the Resurrection; I believe that Jesus healed the sick and cured the lame, the blind, the deaf, the dumb. I believe in miracles, but I do not believe in magic; there is no place for magic in the Christian faith.
When it comes to the ‘nature miracles’, however, I have to pause and wonder; but I’ll keep an open mind.
You have heard me speak about Bishop Tom Wright, and he has written the book ‘John for Everyone’. The book is a very easy to read commentary on the Gospel of John and in it the bishop says he believes that St. John has already made it clear that this chapter is to be all about the Exodus, and so when we have this scene of Jesus walking on the water we should be prepared to understand it as part of the same story. The children of Israel began their journey to freedom by coming through the Red Sea, with the waters parting before them but closing again on their pursuers. It was, of course, Moses who led the way through the Red Sea, and the crowds have just declared that Jesus is ‘the prophet who should come into the world’ – the prophet, that is, like Moses.
Now, even though the crowds have misunderstood what such a prophet might have come to do – they were looking for another act of political liberation, but Jesus was offering something far greater and deeper – Jesus nevertheless does something which the disciples, on subsequent reflection, are bound to see in terms of the Exodus story, the Passover story.
They would see it like this – not least because the Jewish people were not very keen on the sea. They were not much of a seafaring race, unlike the ancient Phoenicians to the north. In some of their ancient stories and Psalms, the sea was associated with chaos, evil, untameable forces within the natural or the spiritual world. True, they sang psalms which celebrated the fact that YHWH, their God, was king over the mighty waters. But small lakes can make big waves as we saw on the TV last weekend, when the Duck boat sank on a small lake in America with the loss of all those lives. So even the fishermen in the story, used to squalls on the Sea of Galilee, could find themselves not only in trouble but in real fear of their lives, as the sea would suddenly become rough, and chaos threatened to come again.
All of this is in the evangelist’s mind as he tells of how Jesus carried on praying on the mountain, away from the excited crowds, until late in the evening, while the disciples set off back to Capernaum in the boat. The lake is about twelve miles long by seven wide at its widest point, and it looks as though they had rowed, through the storm, most of the way back from the east side of the lake to Capernaum on the north side, when Jesus came to them walking on the water.
This event is recorded by Matthew and Mark as well as by John – with all three of them locating it immediately after the feeding of the multitude – and there is no way of rationalising it. (People have suggested that maybe Jesus was standing on a sand bank near the shore, or something equally unlikely). You either come to the story with a firm view of what is and isn’t possible in the world, which won’t allow any fresh evidence – which is not, perhaps, the best way of approaching a book like John, which is all about the challenge of the gospel to all existing world-views – or you come with at least an open mind to new possibilities as yet unimagined. This isn’t the same as being gullible, or credulous.
Nor are the extraordinary stories in the gospels designed, as some seem to have imagined, to portray Jesus as being able to do anything and everything, simply for the sake of making a supernatural display. They are there, rather, as moments in the text when the strange glory of the Word-made-flesh shines through, not so much because Jesus can do whatever he wants, but because this particular act is so closely associated with what Israel’s God does at a key moment in Israel’s history.
The reaction of the crowd is explained in detail in the next four verses.
22 The next day the crowd that had remained on the far side of the lake saw that there had only been the one boat there. They knew that Jesus hadn’t gone with his disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves.
23 But other boats came from Tiberius, near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25 When they found him beside the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
John wants us to understand the fact that not only had the disciples seen what had happened but also that the crowds were puzzled. They knew Jesus hadn’t set off on the boat, and yet when they managed to get to the other side of the lake they found he’d already arrived in Capernaum. Last week, the Revd Rob Wardle told us about his night walk around the north-east side of the lake, so it is easier to understand that it would have been difficult for Jesus to make the journey by land in that time.
As so often, John leaves us with their puzzled question, to which Jesus will now give what seems an even more puzzling answer. This story of Jesus’ walking on the water can easily be used as a theme for meditation.
There are many times in our lives – and we never know when they will strike – when, metaphorically speaking, suddenly the wind gets up and the sea becomes rough. As we struggle to make our way through, sometimes we are aware of a presence with us, which may initially be more disturbing than comforting. (We may think ‘We’re already nearly drowning, and now we’ve got ghosts following us!’) But if we listen, through the roar of the waves and the wind, we may hear the voice that says, ‘It is me – don’t be afraid’. And if we are ready then to take Jesus on board, we may find ourselves, sooner than we expected, at the harbour where we will be calm and secure once more.
Remember, God in Christ is with you; even in the deepest darkness.
Do not be afraid.
God’s Hand Is Always There by Helen Steiner Rice
I am perplexed and often vexed
And sometimes I cry and sadly sigh,
But do not think, Dear Father above,
That I question you or your unchanging love
It’s just sometimes when I reach out
You seem to be nowhere about…
And while I’m sure that you love me still
And I know in my heart that you always will,
Somehow I feel that I cannot reach you
And though l get down on my knees and beseech you,
I cannot bring you closer to me
And I feel adrift on life’s raging sea…
But though I cannot find your hand
To lead me on to the Promised Land,
I still believe with all my being
Your hand is there beyond my seeing!